Dates, cultivation of which extends back to Mesopotamian civilization, have seen a surge in popularity, fueled by strong demand during religious holidays and increasingly health-conscious consumers.
DJ Ryan, sales manager for SunDate, Coachella, Calif., said traditional demand for dates peaked in December during the culmination of Christian and Jewish religious holidays. Over the past few years though, Ryan and others have seen peak demand months moving further and further up the calendar.
“We were seeing demand pull away from Christian and Jewish holidays, and tracking Ramadan start dates,” Ryan said.
Ramadan is a Muslim holiday that occurs during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar year. As such, the holiday’s start date advances each year. In 2014, for example, the start date for Ramadan was June 29. In 2015 Ramadan will begin June 18.
To capitalize on this market, SunDate worked to have their products Halal-certified.
“It has been an education. Everybody’s learning as they go, going after a demographic you didn’t realize existed years ago,” Ryan said.
Demand for dates is also increasing year-round. According to Ryan, SunDate is headed into its fifth year expecting a crop shortage. Other growers too are seeing high demand.
“There’s a very strong demand, both internationally and domestically,” said John Burton, general manager for sales and cooler for Peter Rabbit Farms, Coachella. “We’re really impressed.”
The popularity is in part due to an increased awareness of the many health benefits dates provide. Dates are high in potassium, high in antioxidants, fat-free, cholesterol-free, sodium-free and high in fiber and carbohydrates.
“There’s a date popularity spreading through the millennial age and Generation Z. The 18-30 range has seen date popularity grow as people realize the huge nutritional value in dates,” Burton said.
Ryan offered similar explanations.
“A lot of it is exposure. People try it, like it, then buy them at club stores or order them at restaurants. People are discovering this very healthy, rich piece of fruit.”
Going forward, industry focus will remain on the nutritional qualities of dates. Lorrie Cooper, manager of the Indio-based California Date Commission, said new research for 2014-15 will continue exploring the beneficial effects of dates.